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Sun Rooms: Bringing Your Outdoor Spaces Inside In A Cooler Climate

I grew up in the Southwest, where rain, wind, snow, and cold were practically nonexistent, and where indoor and outdoor spaces merged pretty freely. Patios, porches, and decks were practically standard-issue living spaces, and even outdoor bathrooms and outdoor kitchens weren’t unheard of. So it wasn’t until I moved to the upper Midwest that I even heard of sun rooms. Until my first winter, the concept was sort of lost on me – wasn’t a room with lots of windows just a room? But in the cooler months (and the really hot, humid ones), these add-on rooms really began to shine, offering a relaxing, sun-soaked sitting space that’s as close as you can get to sitting outside while still being protected from the elements.

So What Is A Sun Room?

From Classic British Conservatories To Breezy Southern Porches, Sun Rooms Bring The Best Of The Outdoors Inside (by Get Back JoJo, photo by Margot Hartford)
From Classic British Conservatories To Breezy Southern Porches, Sun Rooms Bring The Best Of The Outdoors Inside (by Get Back JoJo, photo by Margot Hartford)

Sun rooms are called by several different names in different regions. I was introduced to them as Florida rooms, but they’re also called patio rooms, solariums, conservatories, or sun parlors, porches, or lounges. Essentially, they’re an uninsulated addition to the side of your home designed with large wall-to-wall windows or French doors and often skylights that overlook your landscaping. These additions typically aren’t linked to your home’s heating and cooling system, but are intended to be more like a very closed porch. Unlike classic conservatories, they aren’t typically used as greenhouses for growing plants (though they can be), but are really mostly concerned with maximizing sunlight year round.

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Comfortable Furniture

White Walls And Furniture Help Amplify Natural Light, Creating A Very Bright Room Even On Hazy Days (by Balodemas Architects)
White Walls And Furniture Help Amplify Natural Light, Creating A Very Bright Room Even On Hazy Days (by Balodemas Architects)

Ever since the original conservatories of Great Britain, sun rooms have favored a decor that’s one part tropical and one part garden party. Styles range from tropical cabanas to bright, open, cottage-style spaces. In either case, white is far and away the most dominant color, followed by warm, light browns and greens and cheery, colorful patterns. Look for natural materials, like rattan and wicker, but pair them with puffy, oversized cushions and whitewashed walls and ceilings. Of course, you can use more traditional indoor furniture – many sun rooms look great paired with antiques – but if there’s a set of patio furniture you love that might not hold up in your climate (or that you don’t have a place to store in the off season), a sun room is a great way to get the best of both worlds.

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Indoor/Outdoor Flooring

Stone Or Ceramic Tile (Like This Robeli Tile From Tesoro) Can Be Combined With In Floor Radiant Heating To Provide Additional Warmth In The Winter Months
Stone Or Ceramic Tile (Like This Robeli Tile From Tesoro) Can Be Combined With In Floor Radiant Heating To Provide Additional Warmth In The Winter Months

While sun rooms are more or less a finished part of your home, they’re also at least partly an outdoor space. With big windows or glass doors open to your garden on three sides, sun rooms are more like a very well covered patio. You can further enhance this blend of indoor/outdoor space by choosing flooring that mirrors what you’d use outside. Brick, tile, wood, and flagstones or other natural stone flooring all create an outdoorsey vibe, while casual rugs or bamboo mats can soften a hard floor and enhance a cottage or island inspired ambiance. Choosing a rugged, easy to clean flooring material will even allow your sun room to double as a mudroom – great for gardeners or dog owners that don’t want to track mud into a carpeted house.

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A Touch Of Green

Just A Few Potted Trees Bring A Garden Ambiance Into This Sun Room (by Conservatory Craftsmen)
Just A Few Potted Trees Bring A Garden Ambiance Into This Sun Room (by Conservatory Craftsmen)

Sun rooms evolved from British conservatories – indoor greenhouse rooms designed to let occupants enjoy tropical plants (and weather) in an often dreary and damp climate. While these have largely been replaced by a little thing called central heating, adding a plant or two to your sun room is a great way to merge your indoor space with your outdoor landscaping. Tropical plants like rubber trees and palms contribute to an island theme, while more traditional British botanicals can extend your garden, creating a sort of indoor garden party that’s great for entertaining in areas where the weather isn’t always amenable.

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Ceiling Fans

A White Ceiling Fan Blends Nicely With A Slatted Ceiling, While Providing Both Heating And Cooling (by Sarah Nardi of Elsie Interior, photo by Susan Gilmore)
A White Ceiling Fan Blends Nicely With A Slatted Ceiling, While Providing Both Heating And Cooling (by Sarah Nardi of Elsie Interior, photo by Susan Gilmore)

Because sun rooms are covered in windows and are typically both uninsulated and unairconditioned, they can get a little toasty in the summer months, and a little cool in the winter months. Installing a ceiling fan or two is a good way to counter this. In the summer, they help draw cool air up through the room and create a little breeze, and by reversing the blades in winter, they can force warm air that gathers near the ceiling down into the rest of the room. Any fan will do, but this is a nice opportunity to have a little fun with your decor: fans with wide, paddle-shaped bamboo or rattan blades are a great way to add a tropical, island-inspired flair to your sun room.

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Fireplaces And Stoves

This Relatively Modern Sunroom Uses A Wood Stove For Winter Warmth And Classic Charm (by Fraerman Associates Architecture)
This Relatively Modern Sunroom Uses A Wood Stove For Winter Warmth And Classic Charm (by Fraerman Associates Architecture)

Sun rooms are inherently designed for passive solar heating. With so many windows, solar heat enters the room and stays inside. But in northern climates with harsh winters, it can be wise to supplement your design with a small fireplace or potbellied stove. Wood burning, gas, electric, or biofuel fireplaces or stoves can easily heat a small sun room, enabling you to enjoy a crisp clear winter morning as though it were a spring afternoon. Plus, cast iron stoves and stone fireplaces add a certain cozy charm that will make your sitting room feel inviting even when they aren’t in use.

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Are you considering building a new sun room or looking to redecorate an existing one? Do you prefer a cottage style, classic conservatory, island paradise, or something a little more modern?